Monday, June 02, 2008

PERSONAL FAVES: Blazing Saddles

As with my article on 'The Train', posted i.m. Paul Scofield, I've abandoned the random selection process for this week's personal faves write-up in order to pay tribute to Harvey Korman who died five days ago at the age of 81. A veteran of film (his first appearance was in 'Living Venus' in 1961) and TV (a ten-year stint on 'The Carol Burnett Show'), his signature role will forever be Hedy Hedley Lamarr in Mel Brooks's madcap comedy classic 'Blazing Saddles'.

Now, there's two ways of writing about 'Blazing Saddles'. I can either ...

a) pen several hundred words of po-faced prose, for example: when Bart (Cleavon Little), a black man forced to suffer indignities as part of a railroad work gang, is arrested following a retributive attack on racist gang boss Taggart (Slim Pickens), he is saved from the hangman only by the intervention of corrupt politico Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman). Harbouring a fiscal interest in the planned railroad course, particularly in a profitable tract of land around the small township of Rock Ridge, Lamarr manoeuvres incompetent Governer William J Le Petomaine (Mel Brooks) into appointing Bart sheriff of Rock Ridge, a move calculated to offend the decidedly white and puritanical citizenry and provoke a wholesale exodus. When his plan backfires and Bart, with the aid of washed-up former gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), earns the grudging respect of the townsfolk, Lamarr calls upon voluptuous German torch singer Lili von Shtupp (Madeleine Kahn) to ensnare him ...

... or (less boringly) ...

b) quote twenty great lines at random and leave you to dig out your DVD copy, kick back with a beer and laugh yourselves hoarse all over again.

Let's go with (b).

1. Lamarr: My mind is aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapour of invention.
Taggart: Ditto.
Lamarr: Ditto? Ditto, you provincial putz?

2. Reverend Johnson: Now, I don't have to tell you good folks what's been happening in our little town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded and cattle raped. The time has come to act and act fast. I'm leaving!

3. Taggart: I hired you people to get a little track laid, not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots.

4. Lyle: Come on, boys, the way lollygagging around here with them picks 'n' shovels, you'd think it was a hundred and twenty degrees. Why, it can't be more than a hundred and fourteen!

5. Bart: Excuse me, sir, he specifically requested two "niggers". To tell a family secret, my grandma was Dutch.

6. Lili: What's your name, cowboy?
Tex: Tex, ma'am.
Lili: Well, Tex Ma'am, are you in show business?
Tex: No.
Lili: Then get your frickin' feet off the stage!

7. Bart: Since you are my guest and I am your host, what would you like to do?
The Waco Kid: I don't know. Play chess? Screw?
Bart: Let's play chess.

8. The Waco Kid: It got so that every praire punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out The Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B DeMille. Then one day I was just walking down the street and I hear a voice behind me say "Reach for it, mister". I spun around and there I was, face to face with a six-year-old kid. I just threw down my guns and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass.

9. Gabby Johnson: The sheriff is a ni-[CLANG].

10. Taggart: I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
Lamarr: How?
Taggart: We'll kill the first born male child in every household.
Lamarr: Too Jewish.

11. Lamarr: I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the west. Take this down. I want rustlers, cut-throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes. Mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits. Muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, asskickers, shitkickers and Methodists.
Taggart: Could you repeat that, sir?

12. Charlie: Hey Bart, is it me or is the world rising?
Bart: I don't know but whatever it is, I hate it! ... Say, Charlie, what is it when it's not exactly water and it ain't exactly earth?
Both: Quicksand!

13. Lamarr: Now go do - that voodoo - that you do - so well!

14. The Waco Kid: What did you expect? Welcome sonny, make yourself at home, marry my daughter? You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers, these are people of the land, the common clay of the new west. You know: morons.

15. Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into waterfalls of creative alternatives,
Taggart: Gol-darn it, Mr Lamarr, you use your tongue purdier than a twenty dollar whore.

16. Lili: It is twue how they they that you people are gifted? ... Oh, it's twue, it's twue, it's twue!

17. Lili: Would you like another schnitzengruben?
Bart: No, thank you. Fifteen is my limit on schnitzengruben.
Lili: Well, how about a little ...
Bart: Baby, I am not from Havana!

18. Bart: Hey, where the white women at?

19. Le Petomaine: Thank you, Hedy, thank you.
Lamarr: It's not Hedy, it's Hedley. Hedley Lamarr.
Le Petomaine: What the hell are you worried about. It's 1874, You'll be able to sue her.

20. Bart: My work here is done. I'm needed elsewhere. I'm needed wherever outlaws rule the west, wherever innocent women and children are afraid to walk the streets, wherever a man cannot live in simple dignity, wherever a people cry out for justice.
Townsfolk: Bullshit!
Bart: All right, you got. To speak the plain truth, it's getting pretty damn dull around here.

'Blazing Saddles' is quite simply one of the funniest movies ever made, with an inspired ending that's as demented as it is subversive. 'Young Frankenstein' and 'The Producers' are arguably cleverer, but 'Blazing Saddles' is a 90-minute overdose on laughing gas, and amongst a plethora of rip-tickling turns (Wilder, Little, Brooks and Kahn are all on top form), Harvey Korman all but steals the show.

(in memoriam Harvey Korman, 15 February 1927 - 29 May 2008)

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